My last beach walk until this fall makes me sad, but it was a great one nonetheless, including some critters I had not seen before, and for me, that is always exciting 🙂 This walk was on the north end of the island, from around the heel to about a mile west.
But first, a pet peeve. This hole was only the first of four I found and filled on this day. We must do more to educate the public about the dangers posed to sea turtles by sand castles and holes left on the beach. Building and digging while you are at the beach is a lot of fun. However, when sea turtles hatch from their nests, they can become stuck in holes or blocked by tall walls of sand. This can create a number of problems for sea turtle hatchlings. If they are unable to get out of the holes, they could be eaten by another animal or die from exposure to the elements. One of the things you can do to help sea turtles is to fill in holes you make and knock down the sand castles you build.
On my beach walk on July 21 I was very happy to find a bunch of critters living on and in a Knobbed Whelk shell, but I think my find this day beats all other critter communities I have found before. I happened upon this big sea sponge, admirable in it’s own right, but on closer inspection I discovered it full of inhabitants, including three I had not found before!! The sponge is likely a species of Branching Tube sponge, but with over 5000 sponge species, specific identification is difficult.
I’m looking over my find when I noticed that part of it was moving. Now sea sponges don’t “move”, even in life, so I looked closer and found this little crab, the Spineback Hairy crab. Well disguised, wouldn’t you say? I first thought was a Hairy Stone crab, but South Carolina is a bit far for it to have traveled from it’s home turf of Australia. Mark this as New Critter #1 for me. Here are a few more views of this uncommon little crab that (click on any image to make it larger)…
Next I found a Sandy Skinned Tunicate attached to it’s relative, a Sea Pork, and shall we just say that the tunicate had been deceased for a while (yuck). I also found a couple Pleated Sea Squirts, but I have found all these critters before.
I very gleefully discovered five Brittle Stars, a close relative to sea stars, and a few small Hitchhiker Sea Anemones. For some reason I did not take an individual photo of the anemones (very unlike me!!)b but if you look at the large closeup photo of the crab on the sponge, you can see one in the lower right corner. Make those brittle stars New Critter #2, yay!!
And the finds kept coming…
If you look in the center of the sponge you can see a wee red claw. Red? What sort of critter has a red claw (unless it’s been cooked)?
I looked inside and uncovered not one, but two shrimp, shrimp like none I’ve ever seen before. My first thought was that they must be a species of Ghost shrimp, but after much research and a helpful lead from a biologist, I was able to place these in the genus Zuzalpheus, sponge dwelling snapping shrimp of the western Atlantic. Snapping shrimp, an uncommon find on our beaches, are known for the snapping sound they make with that large claw; Google a video sometime. Call these snappers New Critter #3.
As soon as I was done with the sponge I came across New Critter #4, the remains of a dead Purse crab. Not as uncommon as the snapping shrimp, this was still the first one that I have found.
And speaking of Sandbuilder worms, check out the hole colony of them on the Horseshoe Crab shell on the left, while the shell on the right has a colony of Turtle barnacles.
This lovely lady Horseshoe crab was stranded on her back, but still very much alive, so I carried her down to the water and released her.
And just a few final things until we walk again this fall…